OL Reign had a big chance to move up the NWSL table on Saturday night when they traveled south to take on their rivals, Portland Thorns FC, who sat just two points ahead of the Reign. Unfortunately, a rocky first half meant the Reign were chasing a two-goal deficit – and the team again lacked cohesion in the final third when they attacked.
According to Opta, the Thorns had 1.49 expected goals (xG) compared to 0.66 xG for the Reign.
The loss – the club's first regular-season defeat in Portland since 2018 – gives the Reign a dismal 2-6-2 record on the road this year. Their 0.8 points per road match is the second-worst in the league.
Here are three stats that unpack the Reign's 2-0 loss at Providence Park.
OL Reign had 166 touches in their attacking third, the second most all season. That's 47 more than the Thorns had in their attacking third. The Reign also had 23 touches in their attacking penalty box, while the Thorns had 18.
Those stats indicate the Reign dominated possession in their attack, especially in the second half, but they still only managed nine shots compared to 14 for the Thorns. And just three of OL Reign's shots were on target. Portland put eight on frame.
Simply put, the Thorns were ruthless when they attacked. The Reign weren't.
Following a trend that started about two months ago, the Reign continue to struggle in their attacking third. They try to cross too early at times when another touch or pass is open, lack dynamic movement in and around the penalty box, just miss that final pass to unlock their attack, or can't put a shot on frame. As a result, the Reign haven't scored multiple goals since July 1 – and they've been shut out in three of their last five regular-season matches.
Against Portland, as the Reign got desperate, they whipped in a season-high 30 crosses (according to FBref), but just six of those (20%) connected with a Reign player in the box.
Portland won possession 11 times in their attacking half during the game. All 11 recoveries came in the first half when the Reign were sloppy in possession.
Here are just a few examples of where the Reign hurt themselves in possession.
In the 11th minute, Megan Rapinoe attempted a pass to Olivia Van der Jagt in the middle of the field. Crystal Dunn read the play and picked off the pass, and the Thorns quickly transitioned to find Christine Sinclair in the box. On the next play, Jordyn Huitema misplayed a ball to Van der Jagt – and Hina Sugita got a great look at the top of the box as Portland quickly passed toward goal.
Two minutes later, Jess Fishlock and Huitema weren't in sync, and Portland again won the ball high up the field and got two shots off – this time, both were blocked by the Reign.
The issues continued. In the 35th minute, Claudia Dickey was unable to get enough on the ball when she tried to clear a back pass and Rocky Rodriguez won the aerial duel. Again, Portland was off to the races in transition and had two dangerous looks on goal – with Morgan Weaver pinging a shot off the crossbar. The Thorns would get their second goal on the ensuing corner kick.
And finally, to round out the first half, Phoebe McClernon slipped attempting a long pass and the Thorns once again transitioned quickly. To McClernon's great credit, she hustled back to get a foot on Dunn's shot – preventing a third goal.
OL Reign gave up two goals on set plays.
Heading into the match, Portland had actually given up the most goals on set plays of any team in the league (8), and the Reign were tied for the fewest (3) set-piece goals conceded – and had the fewest expected goals against (2.82 xG) on set plays.
The Thorns flipped the script on Saturday, as unfortunate deflections and poor back-post defending gave them two golden opportunities in front of goal.
There is some good news. The Washington Spirit and Racing Louisville also lost, which kept the Reign in fifth and above the playoff line to close out the weekend. However, the Reign are going to need to figure out their attacking third issues if they want to remain in a strong playoff position.
They'll have back-to-back home matches to figure it out. After a FIFA international break, the Reign host the North Carolina Courage at Lumen Field in their next game. The match kicks off on Sunday, October 1, at 5 PM PT.